November 15, 2008

Vol. 9 — The California Zephyr @ just over the border into Utah

into Utah

Coming down out of the highlands of Colorado offered even more spectacular scenery than going up into the mountains earlier this morning. Where that was the green and white of ski country — a color scheme and starkness with which I’ve always been in love — we left the state still hugging close to the river that shares it’s name, through canyons and valleys of vibrant red rock in dozens of strata that even an armchair geologist can appreciate. In places the rocks look as if they’ve been excavated by industrious animals or insects, hundreds of little holes pocking the sheer surfaces, but on closer inspection they’re soft-edged and have the smooth curves that only flowing water can produce. Presumably whatever rain falls up above seeps through the differential densities of the sandstone and wears down the face as it escapes. Still it’s a surface that surprises, and would look perfectly at home on the set of a movie depicting some alien landscape.

As the sun falls lower behind the enclosing hills, it alternately casts long shadows and brightly illuminates the already ruddy cliffs, occasionally becoming visible as a burst of light over a low saddle or through a wind-etched hollow. When we finally leave the valley and depart the river, the sun is well below the horizon, and casts its goodbyes into a sunset that stretches in a grand arch from one side of the world to the other, which would be a god to rainbows, if rainbows had gods. The reds and flame oranges limn white and gray stratus clouds before fading into the blues and blacks of night behind us.

Soon enough it’s fully dark, and we’re in Utah. By the time the light returns, we’ll likely be all the way through the other side, having made the most of the flat and empty land by night.